Viewpoint: Our Capitol Xmas Tree makes me want healthy and balanced Colorado woodlands

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The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, a 55-foot-tall Engelmann spruce, was cut Nov. 5 on national forest land near Montrose and is being trucked across the country to Washington, D.C., where it will be set up and decorated as the nation’s Christmas tree.

I saw the Capitol Christmas Tree on U.S. 50 the other day as I drove home after getting new snow tires. The big tree was loaded onto a long trailer pulled by a huge semi truck and flanked by a parade of motorcycles and sheriff’s vehicles and local police cars flashing red and blue. 

The parade passed through little and big towns in Colorado, including my little town of Paonia, so people could admire the tree before it heads east. 

Local folks have been making ornaments to festoon the tree — 10,000 handmade ornaments that represent our state. Sewing clubs and crafters have sewn and embroidered tree skirts and created hand-made decorations that showcase our agriculture, wildlife, history, and recreation. Think stuffed Smokey Bears and crocheted hemp plants, an elk antler sculpture and shiny ceramic pigs.

It’s nice for Colorado forests to get recognized. We know we have the most beautiful forests, the biggest trees, the greenest glades, in all the land; it’s great to share them with the rest of the country. No place is more beautiful than Colorado.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

But Colorado’s forests are dying. Have you noticed? The state is in what weather experts call a “severe drought.” You can see the results in the dead and dying aspens all over the state, especially on south-facing mountainsides. 

The spruce are dead and dying, too, all over Colorado. You can see dead hillsides on Slumgullion Pass and in the Uncompahgre Wilderness. Thousands of formerly green mountain slopes in Rocky Mountain National Park and in the San Juan Mountains are rusty brown, or burned and scarred. 

The Capitol Christmas Tree begins its journey from Colorado to Washington, D.C. (Handout)

Over 650,000 acres burned this summer and fall in Colorado. 2020 is our worst fire year ever, by far.

This week, as I drove up onto Grand Mesa for the season’s first cross-country skiing on fresh, beautiful snow, once again I noticed the dead aspen groves — bigger every year, bigger again this year — on the south-facing slopes of that huge mountain. 

You know it, too, if you live in Colorado. You’ve seen fire in places that never burned before. You may have seen the dead aspen stands at your favorite campsite, in the Flat Tops and the Gore Range. Your classic hunting grounds aren’t the same. You’ll see vast acreage of rust-brown spruce lining the hillsides if you drive over Vail Pass or Douglas Pass.

The Colorado forests in our minds — the densely green, lush, rolling carpets of spruce/fir and aspen, dotted with rich wildflower meadows and twinkling with lakes and creeks — these forests live on in our minds, not in the mountains. The trees on Colorado forests are crispy dry, tinder dry, dying, dead in the millions, scorched and destroyed, awaiting the next fire. 

The climate isn’t just changing, it’s changed. The evidence is right here in our backyards.

Like just about everybody, I love Christmas trees, the rich green smell of a fresh-cut tree, and the fun of decorating its branches with glittering lights and shiny baubles, opening up the box of decorations and recognizing the special gifts, the handmade trinkets, that we see once a year. 

I love gatherings of people around the tree. A Christmas tree brings warmth and ceremony to dark midwinter. There’s nothing cozier than seeing bright Christmas lights shining from a neighbor’s window or twinkling on an outside tree.

I wish seeing the Capitol Christmas Tree didn’t make me think about Colorado’s dying forests; I wish the forests weren’t dying. I wish I could cheer with simple pride and celebration for the beautiful Engelmann spruce sent as our gift to the nation, without fretting about what’s really going on in the national forests. 

I wish climate change wasn’t occurring; or, since it undeniably is, that we as global citizens were united in turning it around. I wish the high country was as lush and healthy and green as when I first saw it, over 30 years ago. 

But wishing doesn’t make it so, even at Christmas.


Jane McGarry is a writer and bookseller with a big garden in Paonia.


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com.

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Denver aims to elevate recognition of continuously aggravating air top quality on Front Range

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Denver is expanding its air quality monitoring and education program to combat high rates of asthma in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color, focusing on school-age children.

The city’s Department of Public Health and Environment is on schedule with a multiyear grant to install air monitors at 40 public schools and tie them together with a consumer-friendly “dashboard” that families can use to assess danger and alter their activity. Denver will replicate the dashboard and the accompanying clean-air curriculum for the Tri-County Health Department, serving Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, after Tri-County received a state grant.

Urgency for attacking inequitable asthma rates increased through a summer and fall of lung-straining wildfires, and a viral pandemic that has underscored threats to respiratory health, Denver officials said. Metro Denver has this year recorded the highest number of particulate warning days — the form of pollution exacerbated by wildfire smoke — in at least 10 years. Respiratory physicians report a spike in asthma and other complaints among regular patients.

“Certainly, more people are thinking about the air they breathe and how it affects their health,” said Michael Ogletree, air quality program manager for the city health department.

Boosting the efforts is a growing consensus that poor air quality affects lower-income neighborhoods and people of color more deeply than other groups in the metro area. Previous studies in Denver have shown children in industry-adjacent neighborhoods like Globeville and Elyria-Swansea suffer from asthma at much higher rates than wealthier blocks free of highways or smokestacks. Collaboration between the city, Denver Public Schools and National Jewish Health has shown clear correlations between bad air days and spikes in use of asthma inhalers at school-based health clinics.

The state’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap released this fall, the official guidance for setting new policies, addressed inequities directly: “In communities that face disparate impacts from pollution—often including the confluence of industrial facilities, highways, and other sources of air pollution—there is greater frequency of more intense exposure to pollution, and a correlation to higher frequency of upper respiratory and other dangerous health impacts,” the report states.

“Studies show that lower-income individuals and people of color experience increased health impacts and premature death due to exposure to particulate matter in the air. Individuals and families who may already be dealing with chronic health conditions, inadequate healthcare [sic] or insurance, or a lack of access to trustworthy information may also be more vulnerable to the impacts from air pollution and climate change.”

Denver now has real-time air quality “dashboards” available online for 19 schools, on its way to 40, though installation of monitors and smoothing out the technology at the remaining schools on the list were paused by the pandemic.

The Denver health department developed science and health curricula to go along with the dashboards, with the aim that local teachers would help spread word to families about the available air quality information by talking about it in classes. With many elementary students away from classrooms for months because of the pandemic, the health department pivoted to creating instructional videos and worksheets accessible from home, Ogletree said.

Other health departments and school districts can install their own low-cost air quality monitors and replicate the online dashboards and curriculum, he added, with Tri-County Health being the first to work with Denver. Denver trademarked the “Love My Air” program name, and offers free licensing agreements and toolkits for those who want to use it.

The next step, Ogletree said, is working with app developers to turn the Love My Air program into a smartphone tool showing real-time sensors, and also using GPS to automatically detect and display data from the closest monitor. Schools could use the app to push out campaigns like anti-idling at dropoffs and pickups, a common environmental pollution cause at many schools.

In choosing the initial round of schools for the monitors and dashboards, Ogletree said, Denver compared neighborhood health equity indexes, school asthma rates and proportions of free- and reduced-price lunch programs.

Denver Public Schools does not have a citywide policy on what to do about recess and outdoor sports on potentially dangerous air quality days, Ogletree noted. The district leaves those decisions up to the principals. Denver’s health department now regularly fields calls from individual principals seeking guidance for conditions in their areas, and what respiratory experts might recommend.

“The thing is, we really don’t know what to recommend,” admitted Lisa Cicutto, director of community research at National Jewish Health’s Department of Medicine. “And even before COVID-19, we didn’t know.”

Researchers don’t yet have enough information about how higher exposure to particulate matter over longer periods of time affects pediatric health, Cicutto said. Moreover, the asthma versus inactivity question remains a dilemma in public health. Students need exercise, for physical health and to sharpen their minds for classroom work, educators say.

“Leaving kids inside all day and not able to burn off their energy has a negative effect, also,” Cicutto said. “So what’s the balance?”

National Jewish Health works with Ogletree and Denver’s health department to incorporate into school curricula the results from the hospital’s personal air-monitoring project in 2018 and 2019. Volunteers from Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and other neighborhoods wore particulate matter monitors around their neck that measure indoor levels of pollution from such sources as gas cooking stoves, vacuuming, highway dust and more.

Two of the most effective lessons learned for the families using the personal monitors, Cicutto said, were in cooking and driving in heavy traffic. Installing a ventilator above the stove, or just using the one already there, makes a big reduction in inhaled particulate matter, she said: “And sitting in traffic with the windows down, they learned that when they put the windows up and used the air filtering built into the car, they reduced their exposure as well.”

Addition of the coronavirus into the mix of factors for school-age children has complicated optimal detection and treatment of respiratory problems, Cicutto added. Families are supposed to self-screen (and schools are supposed to be on the lookout) for kids with runny noses and coughs that come with the virus.

But the heavy smoke from wildfires pouring down onto the Front Range since summer causes the same symptoms, as do normal seasonal allergies. And when individual kids are held out for symptoms, or entire schools are sent home during outbreaks, kids lose access to the school clinics many families have come to rely on.

“The school health systems are so stressed by handling on-site students, those who are remote learners are really relying on teachers to do the follow-up on why they haven’t been present,” Cicutto said. “That is playing out.”


Freelance writer Michael Booth wrote this story for The Colorado Trust, a philanthropic foundation that works on health equity issues statewide. It appeared at coloradotrust.org on Nov. 11, 2020.  

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via Straight News https://coloradosun.com/2020/11/15/denver-air-pollution-getting-worse/

San Luis Valley air pollution asthma prices a growing concern

Colorado News

Asthma-inducing poor air quality is most often associated with industry- and car-heavy Front Range cities. Or in a dry summer like 2020, smaller towns suffocating in wildfire smoke.

Hours of driving away from Colorado’s biggest cities, though, the San Luis Valley has a growing asthma problem of its own, likely inflated by climate change.

Winds whipping across the Rockies and over the Rio Grande river bottom have for thousands of years dropped tons of grit at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo peaks, leaving the San Luis Valley with its internationally recognized Great Sand Dunes. Yet the same winds and grit have left the historic valley with high levels of asthma and respiratory distress that burdens residents and can turn their great outdoors into a health hazard.

Researchers from National Jewish Health have documented a rise in respiratory-related visits to valley emergency rooms, urgent care clinics and physician offices each time pollution monitors register elevated levels of particle contamination in the air from farm dust and other materials. Their study showed that in the worst air-quality category of windborne large-particulate matter — which occur more often in the valley than on the Front Range — hospitalizations of valley residents with asthma rose 66%.

About 14% of San Luis Valley children suffer from asthma, which is a medically significant higher number than the 12% U.S. average.

Denver-based National Jewish Health has worked with valley-based partners to identify the scale of respiratory problems in the rural region, and begin applying solutions through school and home health curricula. The hospital and partners like the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council are seeking grant money to broaden the air sensor network around the valley and expand health education.

A new generation of lower-cost, high-quality air sensors that can be networked should be placed at farms, schools, individual homes and institutions across the valley, said Lisa Cicutto, director of community research at National Jewish Health’s Department of Medicine. “You have one sensor at the dunes and another in Alamosa, but the geographic area is similar to Connecticut,” she said.

Part of the work in the valley has been illustrating the connection between environmental and individual health, said Christine Canaly, director of the ecosystem council.

“Even my board said at one point, ‘Why is a public land entity getting involved in air quality?’ Because the people who live here are worried about dust storms and want to do something,” she said.

Environmental activists can explain how climate change has lessened precipitation in the valley and on surrounding mountains, drying out the soil and promoting windblown dust. Farms and towns drawing down the valley’s historically high water table also dry out the soil and let the wind scatter naturally occurring heavy metals and other dust across the immense valley plain.

“It was an opportunity for us to really connect the dots,” Canaly said.

Past education programs with National Jewish have also used some of the same in-home teaching the hospital has used with Denver-based partners in urban areas. Lungs are exposed to particles in the home through cooking over gas stoves, poor air filtration and circulation, leaving windows open during dust storms and other controllable hazards.

“What they found was, if people reduce the triggers inside their homes, there’s less critical care needed,” Canaly said.


Freelance writer Michael Booth wrote this story for The Colorado Trust, a philanthropic foundation that works on health equity issues statewide. It appeared at coloradotrust.org on Nov. 11, 2020.  

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Wilson: Joe Biden is the 45th president. Trump shouldnt count.

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“Dude, was that plain English? Was that a soaring, presidential speech?” 

That’s literally what I thought while listening to Joe Biden give his victory speech in Wilmington recently. It was like waking up out of a nightmare in which reality TV star Donald Trump was president.  

Then, upon opening my eyes, I discovered that the president immediately following Barack Obama was his vice president, Joseph R. Biden, Jr.  Because, how could anything else have happened, right? 

As the rest of the world literally rejoices like the Wicked Witch of the West has been slain, the shadow of Trump’s non-concession looms. Van Jones made a very compelling case back in October why all this jubilation could indeed be premature. 

Theo Wilson

There are still some paths Donald Trump could seek to take to remain in the White House for a second term, even after losing both the Electoral College and the popular vote. Lord knows, he’s got the motivation to take these steps. With a reported $421 million in debt, the Southern District of New York hunting him down and the shame of defeat looming over his massively fragile ego, he’s likely going to go for broke. He’s all in like a gambling addict on an Atlantic City roulette table while knee-deep in a losing streak! 

And 71 million Americans are here for it. Accepting the defeat of their favorite conman is as unsavory as publicly admitting they were conned in the first place. He’s not the bully in their mind, he’s the underdog.  

For them, Trump represents the embattled champion of economic nationalism in the face of an ever globalizing economy. For evangelicals, he’s the imperfect King Herod, doing the Lord’s will in spite of his flawed character. After all, in their belief system, God promised them the victory, and delay is not denial. The “Lord” will have the final say. 

Here’s where I admit that I sympathize with the Right, to a small degree. By and large, these are not stupid people. Many of them are friends of mine. As a Black male millennial, I get the trepidation in voting for Biden after the ‘94 crime bill mass incarceration fallout. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

I say this understanding there is some context missing in the narrative of the bill. For example, it offered other things such as a ban on assault weapons, and it was supported by the Congressional Black Caucus. Biden and the Dems could very well have been following their lead in the tone of the tough-on-crime rhetoric. This is explained beautifully in the book, Locking Up Our Own, which details the complex relationship Black Americans have had with crime throughout our turbulent history.  

I also understand the fears around vaccine mandates and us having to trust Big Pharma to save us from COVID-19. I mean, this is the same industry that is now being held legally liable for the opioid crisis.

Caring about all these issues doesn’t make you un-American, it’s just that Trump is an un-American president. Sorry, but you’ve got to release your tax returns before we give you the nuclear codes.  

This can’t happen again, period! You can’t sow division in your rallies, and have white supremacist terrorists cite you as inspiration in 54 court cases. The guy who brought us Trump University, Trump Vodka and has filed for six bankruptcies is unfit for office.

This startling lack of integrity means one thing to me: Trump could never be trusted to deliver on anything his supporters wanted from him. His words were bound to come back void given enough time.  

Even the things that looked like they worked in the first term could be jeopardized in the second if his back were against the wall. The rhetoric of a compulsive liar has no currency. 

Trump has displayed no moral throughline or principle worth hinging any bets on that he’d execute as president. Frankly, I’m not sure if this man was ever elected to anything in his life before 2016. Not class president, not president of Glee-Club or city alderman. He was as unfit as they get, and therefore, my heart can’t count him as a president.

Watching Kamala Harris and Joe Biden speak on that recent Saturday in Delaware made me wonder something else. Are Trump supporters even a little relieved that the embarrassment of following him might soon be over? No more 5 a.m. tweets sending the stock market into freefall. No more fourth grade level word salad when he’s off the teleprompter. No more defending yourself against people who think you’re racist just because you agree with him.  

That had to suck, for sure. Put that behind you, and let the historical autopsy on this era in history begin. Please, learn your lesson, and let’s get out of Trump’s weird “opposite world.”  Because, ironically, with the Biden/Harris administration, I could almost feel America getting … great, again. 


 Theo Wilson is a poet, speaker, author and activist. Learn more about him at TheoWilson.net.


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com. 

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  • Denver aims to raise awareness of steadily worsening air quality on the Front Range
  • Air pollution, asthma rates in Colorado’s San Luis Valley are a growing concern
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Viewpoint: Colorado will certainly contribute in a changing U.S. plan toward Cuba

more news https://northdenvernews.com

The transition to a new president, particularly where there is such a stark contrast in tone and policy, represents a profound change that will impact much of our nation’s domestic and foreign policy.  This impact has been amplified by the powers and global platform of the modern presidency.  

One of those changes that will be watched closely by many, including in Colorado, is U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba.   

Many Coloradans travel to Cuba every year, and, as former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown said in 2017,  “Cuba represents an exciting opportunity to develop new partnerships and new markets for our agricultural economy. … Colorado’s farmers have the high-quality, abundant products to help feed a growing population.” 

Anna Maria Alejo

Expectations are high that President-elect Biden will reverse the Trump administration’s policies toward Cuba that limited U.S. travel, remittances and government-to-government dialogue and return to the era of normalized relations that President Obama ushered in. 

While the toxicity in the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba should diminish as soon as Biden takes the oath of office, the substance of the policies likely will change more incrementally.  Foreign policy is not a light switch that can be turned on and off.  The myriad of policy changes that the Trump administration implemented will be reviewed and considered one at a time. 

Moreover, the changing domestic politics of U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba adds additional complexity.  The rising Hispanic support for Trump’s hard-line approach to Cuba over the past three years in the politically important state of Florida looms large.  

Some changes may come sooner than others. Coloradans looking to visit Cuba (when the pandemic permits) should expect to see commercial flights open up again.  

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

For those of us who have been deeply concerned by the reckless rhetoric and unilateralism of the current administration’s foreign policy and the damage to our nation’s diplomatic ranks, a Biden presidency should provide more immediate change.  This will include a change in tone toward Cuba.

But other changes such as restoring unlimited remittances from U.S. residents to individual Cubans and re-authorizing cruise ships may take longer. Expansion of financial transactions, changes in export controls and direct banking perhaps will take even longer.    

With the limited change in Cuba’s human rights record and approach to the private sector since normalization began in the last two years of Obama’s presidency, U.S. demands for changes and concessions by Cuba will elevate as well. This includes addressing issues such as Cuban support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela and the free-market reforms that Obama forcefully called for in his March 2016 visit to Cuba.

Then-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (center, wearing red tie) meets with Cuban entrepreneurs at a 2017 program hosted by 10X10KCuba. Several Colorado businesses participated. (Photo courtesy of Anna Maria Alejo)

It is this effort to promote entrepreneurship and market reforms in Cuba that I had the opportunity to engage in over the course of many visits to Cuba, and where Colorado can continue to play an important role.

In 2017, Colorado was host to a two-week intensive program for Cuban entrepreneurs hosted by 10X10KCuba, an initiative of the Cuba Emprende Foundation.  Several Colorado companies and institutions, including Liberty Global, Boomtown, TechStars, Foundry Group, the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, and University of Denver Project X-ITE participated.  

They provided Cuban startups with resources and training to advance their businesses.  The Cubans also had the chance to meet with two of Colorado’s best-known entrepreneurs, then-U.S. Rep. (now Gov.) Jared Polis and then-Gov. (now U.S. Sen.-elect) John Hickenlooper.  Colorado businesspeople also led efforts to bring five Havana tech companies to New York City for the first-ever Cuba Pavilion at TechCrunch Disrupt.

As we know in Colorado, entrepreneurs face daunting challenges even in our supportive ecosystem. In Cuba, the barriers for startups are considerably higher, with limited access to the internet and capital, onerous limitations on business formation and growth, and a government that has veered over the years from tacit support to open hostility to privately owned business.  

All of which makes the women and men who we brought to Colorado, and their counterparts on the island, even more impressive and worthy of admiration and support. 

As Biden charts a new course for U.S.-Cuban relations, Colorado has the opportunity to remain in the forefront of those efforts, both in pursuit of market opportunities for our businesses and with cultural and educational exchanges that can positively impact Cuban lives.  


Anna Maria Alejo is the owner of a strategic communications firm, a board member of WorldDenver, and was Colorado director of 10X10KCuba.


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com.

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  • Wilson: Joe Biden is the 45th president. Trump shouldn’t count.
  • Opinion: Colorado will play a role in a changing U.S. policy toward Cuba
  • Denver aims to raise awareness of steadily worsening air quality on the Front Range
  • Air pollution, asthma rates in Colorado’s San Luis Valley are a growing concern
  • Carman: Can’t miss Thanksgiving at Grandma’s? Then brace yourself for Christmas in the ICU.

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To verify the 2020 ballot count Colorado takes one final step: an audit. Heres how it works.

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Confirming the legitimacy of an election in Colorado begins with the roll of a dice. 

On Monday morning, employees of the Secretary of State’s Office will convene to roll a 10-sided dice 20 times, creating a sequence of numbers, or a “seed,” to determine which ballots the counties must check to confirm the accuracy of the 2020 election. 

It’s the first step in what’s called a risk-limiting audit — a procedure that compares votes on paper ballots with results collected by vote-counting machines to scan for discrepancies and correct erroneous tabulations. The public can even watch a livestream of the meeting, one more way the state promotes transparency.

The counties finished counting votes Friday. The audit results are due to the state by Nov. 24.

“Every election administration in the U.S. has a goal of conducting a secure, safe and accurate election,” Colorado’s Deputy Election Director Hilary Rudy said. “A risk-limiting audit helps confirm that that did, in fact, happen.”

Colorado was the first state to require such audits with a law approved in 2009. The statewide election in November 2017 was the first time any state performed a risk-limiting audit on the ballot count. The 2020 election is the first for a presidential general election.

There are two other states that require in state law a post-election risk-limiting audit. And nine additional states have the option to perform them or have instituted pilot programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a Denver-based bipartisan organization.

The risk-limiting audit is more time- and cost-efficient than hand-count audits, which is the other type of post-election audit that states conduct, according to Neal McBurnett, a Boulder-based voting systems expert who helped implement the nation’s first risk-limiting audit.

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“We use computers and/or fallible humans to tabulate our ballots,” McBurnett said. “With any process — especially ones that use computers and that are vulnerable — we should double-check the results. It’s as simple as that.”

How the risk-limiting audit works in Colorado

First, the dice is rolled, then the ballots with the corresponding numbers are pulled. County audit boards — each composed of one Democrat and one Republican — manually review those ballots and report voter markings to the secretary of state using audit software. If the markings on those ballots match the outcome recorded by the voting system, that’s good. If they don’t, the audit board compares additional ballots until the outcome is confirmed. This is a comparison risk-limiting audit.

Counties with older systems that don’t read or export a voting record use a ballot-polling risk-limiting audit. This audit performs the same process, only the ballots are compared with the sample of the reported winner instead of the voting system, similar to an exit poll.

“You want to take a statistical sample of the ballots and say ‘Does this match the outcome?’” McBurnett said. “That’s why we do audits, in a nutshell.”

The audit concludes when it finds strong evidence that the outcome is correct, or when it finds the opposite, prompting a full recount by hand. 

What’s the point of a post-election audit?

You don’t run a risk-limiting audit because there was a problem,” Ben Adida, executive director of nonprofit VotingWorks, said Tuesday in a webinar. “You run a risk-limiting audit to build more confidence in the outcome.”

Before Colorado’s first risk-limiting audit in 2017, the Secretary of State’s Office randomly selected voting systems for an audit but didn’t expand the audit to a full count. This lowered the chance of finding incorrect outcomes, much less correcting them, according to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission. Risk-limiting audits consider contest margins and errors discovered by the audit, yielding a minimum of missing incorrect outcome, called a “risk limit.”

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Secretary of State Jena Griswold established the risk limit for this election at 4%, which means auditors will scan ballots until there’s a 96% chance the audit yields a correct outcome. In the 2018 election, the limit was 5%.

The 5% is the highest level allowed in law for statewide elections, but Rudy said Griswold chose the lower number because the auditing process is relatively new and she wanted lower risk limits for these first few audits.

“You start with the assumption that there must be an incorrect outcome, and you audit until you disprove it or correct it,” Rudy said. “If we go through the first round and have found enough discrepancies that we haven’t met the risk limit, then we conduct a second round, and continue conducting rounds until we meet the risk limit.”

In the six previous audits performed by the state — the 2020 general election will be the seventh — auditors have found discrepancies on ballots such as dissimilar signatures and circles instead of bubbles but no incorrect outcomes, Rudy said.

While these audits rarely discover incorrect outcomes, ballot discrepancies may educate election officials on ways to improve voting instructions and ballot layouts, said Tammy Patrick, senior elections adviser for the Democracy Fund and a former county election official, during the webinar.

“Oftentimes that’s what was problematic, not the machine misreading the area the voter was supposed to mark in,” Patrick said. 

This story is brought to you by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative, and Election SOS, a national program supporting journalists during the 2020 election. COLab is a nonprofit coalition of more than 90 newsrooms across Colorado working together to better serve the public, including The Colorado Sun.

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Exactly how possibility and loss merged as well as a viral remix offered me brand-new hope

Colorado News

My son’s remix went viral on TikTok. It happened the week his lease in Boulder ended, the week he moved back home with a crisp college diploma, the week his employer told the newcomers, “Might as well stay put, everyone’s still working remotely.” 

Instead of moving to San Francisco to start his career as a 22-year-old software engineer surrounded by a dynamic team and a view of the fireball-orange Golden Gate Bridge, he was set up in our basement in south Denver surrounded by my husband’s collection of dusty model cars and a view of the window well.

When Thadeus showed up on a Sunday in July, the first thing the youngest boy did was get the oldest boy’s name on the chore chart. Mathias used the permanent black marker to write “T” in every fourth block on the kitchen calendar indicating “it’s your kitchen night.”

On Monday, Thadeus’s track began to get noticed on TikTok. 

MORE: See all of our Write On, Colorado entries and learn how to submit your own here.

“Mom, over ten thousand people have made videos with my song,” he said.

That night, I scrolled through clip after clip of people dancing to his upbeat remix of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.”

On Tuesday he said, “It’s one hundred thousand now.” 

I was more impressed by how much he had matured since we moved him into the dorms. It was nice to have him home, to be close again.

In high school, Thadeus ditched the piano to learn Ableton Live, a software program for producing music on a computer. The hip hop beats he composed, amplified by the stereo speakers in his room, rocked the entire house, drowning out the noise of a Whirlpool washing machine working overtime, my husband’s favorite sports radio broadcast, and a family of five squabbling over who left the wet towels on the floor, the lunch meat out on the counter, the gate open, and the dog out. 

As his remix gained momentum, so did his schedule. The day the smell of sizzling bacon wafted into my office—his former room—I overheard him on the phone with his soon-to-be artist manager, then in a virtual work meeting, then back on the phone.  When I went downstairs to make a cup of tea, I found grease splattered all over the stovetop and my turquoise tea kettle. I called him into the kitchen, gesturing toward the stove.

“Could you please clean this up?” 

The following day, his interview with Rolling Stone appeared online. Elias Leight wrote, “Disco Lines’ unofficial remix of Swift’s 2008 single ‘Love Story’ has torched through TikTok, soundtracking over a million videos in just a week.” 

I was just about to share the article with my team at work when I noticed that the first link in the piece took readers to a YouTube tutorial video my son created featuring a popular meme with the f-word.

The next day, Liz Richardson with BuzzFeed stated that “Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ Is Now a Viral Challenge on TikTok.” I watched more trending videos, realized I had TikTok fatigue, and closed the app. 

Turns out, a cover of the original song, instead of a remix, could actually be streamed for profit. While Thadeus awaited permission to create a single with a new vocalist, our family got back into a routine, faithfully following Mathias’s chore chart. 

One quiet evening, Thadeus joined my husband and me on the front porch.

“We’re talking with a record label,” he said.

“Don’t quit your job,” my husband said.

“Don’t quit your job,” I said. 

In September, his official cover showed up on music streaming apps, backed by a record label. 

That same week, my husband and I attended a funeral for his colleague of 30 years. Standing on the grass in the cemetery six feet apart from the other mourners, I heard my husband crying behind his mask. I held his hand tightly, saddened by his deep loss. I thought about all the people who have lost loved ones this year, all our relationships, tested and stressed with a tension that wouldn’t let up. 

When we got home, I changed into workout clothes, headed to the trail on the canal, opened my playlist, and tapped on Disco Lines’ “Love Story.” The tempo energized me. The song lifted my spirits. A light breeze blew in and a giant canopy of leaves on the massive cottonwood trees around me shimmered with sunlight. I looked ahead. The path seemed wider and more welcoming than I had ever seen it, like an invitation to something extraordinary. 


Julie Labuszewski is a senior copywriter in Denver and currently pursuing her low residency MFA in Writing at University of Nebraska Omaha. 

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Coronavirus eliminated a great deal of Colorado work yet it also created a host of brand-new ones in technology

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As technology companies sent workers home in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, they also were among the best equipped to keep staff since employees didn’t need to be at the office to sit in front of a computer.

And as it turned out, such companies not only added jobs during the pandemic but the overall sector saw year-over-year job growth in September, according to data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

They weren’t the only ones. Other types of work thrived in a pandemic economy, including couriers and messengers, which had a 35.3% annual growth; beverage manufacturing, at 13.2%; and building services, like pest control or grounds maintenance, at 11.8%. However, job growth in those areas is likely because of the pandemic rather than despite it.

“If you think about it, this (tech) is one industry where it’s more likely you’ll be able to work from home,” said Ryan Gedney, senior economist at the Department of Labor. “If you want to identify the key driver of Colorado’s employment growth, really since 2015, it would be this sector. This has been one of the strongest growing sectors in Colorado and really a bright spot in the post-Great Recession recovery.”

The sector Gedney speaks of is “professional, scientific and technical” group, which includes engineering, computer systems design and technical services. It also includes legal and architectural services. It wasn’t a large annual growth, at 3.4% from a year ago, but by comparison, nearly every other sector saw a decline during the same period.

The hardest hit industries were personal and laundry services, at -32.8%; accommodations, at -27.1%; and arts, entertainment and recreation, at 21.5%. Other occupations that allowed some employees work from home still saw declines as the economy hurt, including the financial and insurance sector. 

Pandemic unemployment has heavily impacted the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries. About 26.4% of the 770,928 first-time claims filed since mid-March were jobs within those industries.While those industries have regained jobs since May, they are still below where they were a year ago But as the number of coronavirus cases increases in Colorado again, there’s probably more interest in jobs that can survive another pandemic. 

And tech companies are benefiting. There’s been story after story about tech companies experiencing explosive growth, such as Zoom, the videoconferencing service that became a verb as business users started using it from home and with their families. The company, which has an office in Denver, said it’s increased its global workforce 42% since January to 3,400 employees. 

On the other hand, there are tech companies that didn’t fare as well, like ride-sharing service Uber, which reported last week that third-quarter bookings are still down 53% from a year ago.

While some tech companies did put hiring plans on hold when the pandemic hit, many are back to their expected growth plans for the year, if not better than expected.

Erin Neer, founder and CEO of MUNIRevs in Durango. (Handout)

“There was definitely a pause (in the March quarter) because nobody was in the office and people that were about to contract with us before the pandemic — the attorney couldn’t talk to the finance director anymore — they were trying to figure out how to operate,” said Erin Neer, founder and CEO of MUNIRevs in Durango. “And so second quarter kind of was a little bit of a tread water just because all of our local officials were trying to figure out how to work remotely.” 

But MUNIRev, which helps cities collect tax payments and other things online, saw business return as municipal clients realized “They had shut their offices down. Checks were sitting in P.O boxes not being processed. Staff couldn’t meet face-to-face with businesses to take their tax payments,” Neer said. 

And then its clients began adding the company’s LodgingRevs service to communicate with short-term rental owners in their city about COVID restrictions, licensing and other news. Cities could reach out to short-term rental owners to tell them about a moratorium on late penalties and interest or due date extensions. 

The pandemic didn’t necessarily accelerate business for MUNIRevs, Neer said, but it helped get the word out.

“It was always growing,” Neer said. “But we don’t have to tell the story as much because cities are realizing that we can be part of their resiliency plan.” 

Tech plus pandemic growth

And then there’s the tech companies creating products for industries that became more popular in the pandemic. Campground Booking started 2020 with just two employees — founders, Heath Padgett and Paul Ryan. Its online booking service helps campgrounds and campers manage or make reservations. The founders knew it was a growing industry but they had no idea how camping would take off in the pandemic as people got tired of sequestering at home. 

“The buzzword in our space was contactless and how do I not have to bring people into the front office when they’re checking in?” Padgett said. “Nobody knew what was gonna happen so a lot of these parks were starting to think ‘I might have to market for the first time in a long time.’ There were a lot of unknown factors. And then, of course this summer, campgrounds exploded.”

Padgett said its customers have seen revenues increase 136% on average this year from last year. And Campground Booking, headquartered in Montrose, now has nine full-time employees and just expanded to its first park in Mexico.

The company also benefited from the pandemic after other tech companies feared the worst and cut jobs. Campground Booking hired three software sales workers who had lost their jobs in the pandemic. Padgett saw it as a chance to see whether his company could grow customers with direct sales and not just referrals. It worked. The number of campground customers has grown 200% this year to 80 sites.

“I saw (the pandemic) affecting, obviously, people in service industry jobs,” he said. “But then I started talking to my friends who are working in other tech startups and realizing like a lot of people got let go from technology companies. It was an opportunity where the timing aligned well with us and fortunately we were able to kind of swoop in and grab some really talented people.”

Training for tech

In recent years, Colorado has seen many major tech companies open an office or move its headquarters to the state. Several have done so in the past three years, including Facebook, Amazon and Salesforce. Other companies have moved their headquarters to Denver, including Palantir, which made the move during the pandemic.

“We’ve just been seeing incredible growth, especially in the tech sector across our state. And a lot of that effort has been driven by the state to recruit larger tech companies,” said Cory Finney, a partner with the Greater Colorado Venture Fund, which invests in startups in rural Colorado. “I see even post-COVID Colorado being a really strong place where people decide they want to spend their time. I think that there’s a lot of tailwind there.”

A lot of tech companies that expand in Colorado do so because of the talent that exists, which is ironic because home-grown tech companies have often talked about tech-worker shortages.  Two years ago, a group of Denver companies created the “Pivot to Colorado” campaign to attract tech workers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. 

But companies here have also invested in training programs. Denver-based Guild Education, which developed the technology to connect fast-food and service workers to further education and college degrees as an employee perk, said it’s doubled the size of learning options during the pandemic to include more online degrees and certifications, plus more upskilling programs to help workers gain skills in tech, healthcare and language training. 

“Since the pandemic began, we have focused on scaling our company to better serve America’s workforce and to help frontline workers gain the skills needed to advance their careers and succeed in the future of work,” said Rachel Romer Carlson, Guild’s CEO and co-founder, in an email.

And to do so, the company has hired 170 employees since March and now employs 760 people. A good chunk of the new employees came from Guild’s acquisition of Entangled in May, which has helped the company offer its “Next Chapter” service to provide training opportunities for furloughed or laid-off workers.

Despite the pandemic, Boulder-based Techtonic offers tech training in the form of paid apprenticeships to support the pipeline needed to meet the job demand of Colorado’s tech sector. (Handout)

Meanwhile, Boulder-based Techtonic’s software development apprenticeship program has experienced massive popularity. Its last cohort attracted 500 applicants for 20 spots. 

“They get paid Day One, which really takes all the barriers to entry away for a software developer because even to join a boot camp, you have to be able to take six months off and pay sometimes $20,000 to do that,” Techtonic founder and CEO Heather Terenzio said. “But with us, you could have been a barista yesterday and now be on your way to a really great career in software development.”

Techtonic’s main business is software development services. But after having a difficult time hiring workers, it decided in 2012 to offer apprenticeships. Apprentices work with mentors and clients and after 1,500 hours, clients can hire out of the program at no cost. 

“The need is still out there. The nice thing with us is that when they get talent through our program, companies know exactly what they’re gonna get,” she said. “It really de-risks the hiring process for our clients so our clients keep coming back to us over and over again for talent.”

Techtonic had made “really aggressive growth goals” this year but that slowed during the pandemic. Still, Terenzio added, growth is up 30% from last year.

“We’re still grateful that we’ve grown, not a lot of companies can probably say that today,” Terenzio said. “…We’ve just had some really good clients that continued to grow during the pandemic. That’s helped us out quite a bit. Plus the need for software developers has been growing. I also have a theory that the whole world has been disrupted and people are willing to think about different ways to bring talent on board.”

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  • Coronavirus killed a lot of Colorado jobs, but it also created a host of new ones in technology
  • U.S. Forest Service approves protection of Colorado’s Sweetwater Lake, but big questions remain
  • Cimarron Mountain Club, a private ski area near Montrose, sells its seven final memberships
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UNITED STATE Woodland Service approves protection of Colorados Sweetwater Lake however large questions continue to be

Colorado News

The White River National Forest’s request for Land and Water Conservation Fund money to permanently protect Garfield County’s Sweetwater Lake — a pristine oasis surrounded by public lands —  has been granted.

But the agency did not say how much of the requested $8.5 million from the fund will be distributed. That’s just one of several recent examples of foot dragging by Trump Administration land managers who have missed critical deadlines imposed by the Great American Outdoors Act, a sweeping public lands bill that President Donald Trump promoted to help buoy Republican senators facing tough re-election bids in the West. 

The Forest Service on Friday released its 2021 list of Land and Water Conservation Fund projects for state grants under the Forest Legacy Program and for land acquisition. The list was due Nov. 2 as part of the passage this summer of the Great American Outdoors Act, which promised to whittle down an estimated $20 billion in deferred maintenance on public lands and directed $900 million a year into the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (The fund is supported by oil and gas royalties paid by energy companies exploring and drilling on federal land and water.)

The Great American Outdoors Act requires the Forest Service and the Department of Interior to submit “a detailed description of each project, including the estimated expenditures from the fund for the project for applicable fiscal years,” by Nov. 2. Both agencies missed that deadline. The list released Friday by the Forest Service also lacked the dollar figures required by the legislation. 

As an added twist, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Friday issued an order that added new provisions to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, including severe limitations on the Bureau of Land Management’s ability to add new acreage. Bernhardt’s Secretarial Order 3388 prioritized land acquisitions by the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the BLM. 

A vague list he scripted last week distributing $900 million worth of Land and Water Conservation Fund money sent just $2.5 million to the BLM for land acquisition, and dismissed six projects that had been previously trumpeted by the Trump Administration during the summer’s cheerleading for the Great American Outdoors Act.

“That is consistent with the disdain Bernhardt has had for the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Aaron Weiss, the deputy director for the Center for Western Priorities. “He tried to defund it for three years and now he’s throwing sand in the gears before he leaves. Really, these guys are just making it up as they go along right now because they know it doesn’t matter. They are going to be gone soon.”

Bernhardt’s order also requires both the approval of state governors and local county leaders for all federal land acquisition. The Garfield County Commissioners have long opposed adding federal land in their county but they do support the protection of Sweetwater Lake. 

“We will stand behind that, most certainly,” said Commissioner John Martin. 

The Forest Service said this week it would use Land and Water Conservation Fund allocations to protect 488 acres around Sweetwater Lake bordering the Flat Tops Wilderness in Garfield County. The agency did not say how much money from the fund would be directed to the White River National Forest’s $8.5 million plan to incorporate the parcel. (Todd Winslow Pierce, Special to The Colorado Sun)

In the final line of Friday’s order, Bernhardt added a legally questionable clause.

“The termination of this order will not nullify the implementation of the requirement and responsibilities effected herein,” he wrote.

A workaround emerges

But there is another option for seeing the Great American Outdoors Act fully deployed. Congress could force Bernhardt and the Forest Service to fund all the projects that were part of the promotions for the legislation. And lawmakers appear to be preparing to do just that. 

The U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Committee on Tuesday released funding recommendations for the Interior Department and Forest Service with specific projects and dollar amounts. The committee plan directs $54.1 million to the BLM — a $51.6 million increase over Bernhardt’s plan — and $120 million to the Forest Service for land acquisition. The committee’s list for LWCF acquisition projects includes $8.5 million for the Forest Service for Sweetwater Lake. 

Sweetwater Lake and the surrounding 488 acres has been owned for decades by private developers who pondered a luxury retreat, a golf course and even a water-bottling facility. The White River National Forest’s request for Land and Water Conservation Fund support was among the agency’s Top 10 priority projects for 2021. 

Officials with the White River National Forest directed all calls about plans for Sweetwater Lake to the agency’s national press office, where spokeswoman Babete Anderson said there was no more information to share. 

“The list is the extent of the information on projects that we are sharing at this time, as numbers are still being finalized and we want to do everything we can to ensure efficient use of these funds,” she wrote in an email. “We hope to have more information soon.”

In the past 50-plus years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has awarded more than $272 million in grants to more than 1,100 projects in Colorado. The list includes national parks like Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes, state parks including Golden Gate, Roxborough and Castlewood Canyon, and city parks such as Confluence in Denver and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

A Land and Water Conservation Fund grant of $8.5 million for Sweetwater Lake would be among the largest ever awarded to Colorado. (Congress directed $14 million of the fund toward protecting almost 10,000 acres around Red Mountain in the early 2000s.)

The grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund will end a nearly two-year campaign to protect the lake and surrounding acres that spill from the Flat Tops Wilderness. That “Save the Lake” effort saw the Eagle Valley Land Trust raise more than $1 million from local governments and donors.

The protection effort began with The Conservation Fund, which approached the private owners of the property in 2018 with a proposal for protection. Coulton Creek Capital, the Greenwood Village investment group that took over the property when a 12-year plan to bottle water from a spring on the property evaporated, was listing the “Sweetwater Canyon Club” for $9.3 million and agreed to work with the conservation group. Great Outdoors Colorado loaned money to The Conservation Fund to make the purchase with a plan to transfer the property over to the Forest Service.   

‘“Despite the challenges, this has been moving along actually quicker than we anticipated,” said Justin Spring with The Conservation Fund. 

When, or if, the land becomes part of the National Forest System, the White River has a long list of priorities for Sweetwater Lake, including improvements to the water supply on the property and upgrades to a campground and boat launch. 

The agency is in talks with Colorado Parks and Wildlife about a shared management plan at Sweetwater Lake that could lead to the property becoming a new state park. 

“Sweetwater checks some important boxes for CPW and what we want stuff to look like. There is obviously water recreation and we also like the location as close as it is to I-70,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton. “Then there’s the access it provides to federal land, just a massive amount of land. So yes, there are many reasons we want to be part of that conversation with the Forest Service. We are in a mode right now where we are looking at other parcels. The governor has let his intention be known that he wants more state parks.”

The 77-acre Sweetwater Lake and more than 400 acres surrounding it could be open to the public if a conservation plan shifts the property into the White River National Forest. (Provided by The Conservation Fund)

Adrienne Brink has run A.J. Brink Outfitters at Sweetwater Lake for 36 years. Over that span, she’s worked with six different land owners, all of them providing her a year-to-year lease for her business hosting hunters, campers and horseback-riding guests. Each of those owners had big plans, but nothing ever happened. The lack of continuity has made it difficult for her to invest in her cabins, restaurant, campground and stables.

In the past several months she’s hosted White River forest officials and engineers who were making plans should the Land and Water Conservation Fund come through. She was eager to share her list of priorities, including replacing the 1954 roof on the restaurant, better camping access and maybe even a venue where she could host weddings and events similar to those held at Coulter Lake Guest Ranch near Rifle or Trappers Lake Lodge northwest of Meeker, both of which have concessionaire permits to operate amenities on federal land. 

“I never really had any owners who wanted to spend money on improvements,” she said. “I’m hopeful. We’ve been here for 36 years and always worried whether we would be coming back the next year. I’m hoping we can find some stability with the Forest Service. Sure seems like we are headed in the right direction.”

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  • Coronavirus killed a lot of Colorado jobs, but it also created a host of new ones in technology
  • U.S. Forest Service approves protection of Colorado’s Sweetwater Lake, but big questions remain
  • Cimarron Mountain Club, a private ski area near Montrose, sells its seven final memberships
  • To verify the 2020 vote count, Colorado takes one final step: an audit. Here’s how it works.
  • How possibility and loss converged, and a viral remix gave me new hope

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Cimarron Hill Club an exclusive ski area near Montrose markets its 7 last subscriptions

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Jim Aronstein’s business plan is moored in protecting powder. 

So he took a pass when the brokers suggested he increase the number of homesites he was selling at his private Cimarron Mountain Club ski area near Montrose from just 13. When advisors recommended adding a chairlift, instead of using a snowcat, to access 60-plus runs at his nearly 2,000-acre mountain, he said no. 

“When you put more skiers on the mountain, you are detracting from what you are trying to achieve,” Aronstein said. “Imagine your version of mountain heaven. That’s what we are trying to create.”

Aronstein, a retired land resources attorney and passionate skier, bought the mountainous spread above the Cimarron River from a logging company in 2004 and never wavered from his core principles as he created a ski-focused retreat where members and their families could ski powder all the time. It’s a private ski area model unlike any other in the country, and the appeal took time to reach the right buyers. In the first three years of sales, Aronstein sold six homesites. 

Read more outdoors stories from The Colorado Sun.

Then came COVID and a worldwide reassessment of priorities. As buyers from afar sought refuge in communities like Aspen, Telluride and Vail, the search for even more exclusivity led a select few to Aronstein’s door. 

He’s sold the final seven parcels in the last three weeks. 

For the last several years, possible members, with the means to put down  $2.85 million to $3.2 million to secure their pick of a 35-acre homesite, have toured the one-of-a-kind resort club. Aronstein heard from a lot of those would-be buyers that exploring the private ski area the size of telluride was extraordinary, but they wanted to ski everywhere instead of settling into one place. 

“They had that bucket-list type approach to life,” Aronstein said. “And I think COVID changed that. I think more people are looking for more control over their own safety and a place where they could hunker down and still ski as much as they want. People aren’t saying it explicitly, but I think COVID has changed a lot of attitudes for what people were looking for in a lot of different ways.”

Few in the resort real estate world were more prepared for that attitude shift than Aronstein. He calls Cimarron Mountain Club an “unresort.”

“It’s a very unique experience up here. Really rich and soulful, where you can really feel far away and in touch with nature and able to do the best mountain recreation you can do anywhere in a wilderness setting,” he said last winter as he rumbled up a snowy roads in a plush PistenBully snowcat loaded with his resort-chieftain advisers. 

Jim Aronstein and his wife Patsy bought the former logging operation on the north end of the San Juan Range in 2005 with a plan for a private mountain community of only 13 homes. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)

Before Aronstein started pitching his plan, he consulted with his friend John Norton, a marketing boss with years of experience captaining resorts in Aspen and Crested Butte. Norton, who helped Aronstein recruit Colorado resort pioneers Bill Kane, Johnny Stevens and Andy Daly to an advisory board, told his friend to develop “a few essential constitutional principles” to guide the project.

“It makes decision-making easier when you have a touchstone that you are not going to violate come hell or high water,” said Norton, who admits some skepticism about his college buddy’s plan — until he went and skied the steep-and-deep terrain. “Six years later, and even though the plan has changed a bit, the core fundamentals are the same.”

Those guiding principles involve a limited number of members skiing in a place where powder is a treasured resource and development that revolves around the preservation of wilderness character. 

Preserving the wilderness feel means there is no drive-up access in the winter. The roads are not plowed and the only way to reach homes and the slopes is on a snow machine. All members must adhere to the club’s principles and sign a contract that requires unanimity among members before there are changes like adding a chairlift or opening the club to more members.

“Which is never going to happen,” said Aronstein, who, with his wife, Patsy, brought in equity partner Kim Koehn in 2012.  

Potential members are vetted by existing owners, whose homesites come with 120 days of skiing every season for their family. Memberships cannot be separated from the land. That means some “high profile” possible buyers didn’t make the cut in the early years, Aronstein said. 

“We have had to not provide an invitation to people who wanted to join because we felt there wasn’t a good fit,” he said. “But we are in for the long haul, so getting the right people and keeping it the way we want is essential.”

It helps that beyond partner Koehn, Aronstein didn’t have to involve lenders or shareholders in the development of his powder-protecting plan.

There are more than 60 cut runs at Cimarron Mountain Club near Montrose. (Handout)

The backstory of how a land attorney came into many millions to buy 1,750 acres of largely roadless wilderness surrounded by Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land is really interesting. 

In the 1990s, Aronstein and a partner started assembling mining claims adjacent to where Vail ski area would later open Blue Sky Basin. They reached a deal with the ski resort operator that gave the company a 50% development option for acreage on Battle Mountain Pass above and below the abandoned town of Gilman. 

After a bruising process to open Blue Sky Basin — which drew vehement opposition from environmentalists and saw ecoterrorists torch the ski area’s Two Elk Lodge in 1998 — Vail Resorts balked at the plan with Aronstein, suggesting that conservation of the parcels would be the best option. When the company canceled its development deal with Aronstein, he sued for breach of contract. A judge ruled in his favor in 2003 and ordered Vail Resorts to forfeit its investment in the project. Two years later Aronstein sold the roughly 5,400-acre tract to Florida developer Bobby Ginn for $32.75 million, who planned a massive golf and ski resort community on the land. 

Developer Ginn’s Battle Mountain plan collapsed in the Great Recession, along with his entire golf empire in the Southeast. 

But Aronstein’s idea, seeded with Ginn’s money, has reached fruition.  

Read more skiing stories from The Colorado Sun

A new twist on the private ski area model

While the original mission of creating a place that protects untrammeled snow for a select few has not swayed, the plan has been adjusted over the years. At first, Aronstein hoped buyers would build mansions. But potential members, he found, typically already had vacation homes and were not keen to add another. So he planned more of a club, with a 6,000 square-foot lodge with six suites and guest yurts for visiting members. With the lodge, members don’t have to build on the property, which includes hiking and biking trails, trout-stocked lakes and streams and rock climbing routes on basalt-fluted cliffs that ring the property. 

But as Aronstein filled the final membership slots in the last month, he found buyers actually warming to the idea of their own homes, which, per club rules, can be no larger than 6,000 square feet. Aronstein expected that as memberships filled and the lodge suites and yurts were booked. 

Jim Aronstein skis a run at his Cimarron Mountain Club in late February. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)

Construction of the lodge is scheduled to begin in the spring. The ski area also is planning to offer guided skiing on nearby public lands, possibly this winter, following approval by federal land managers. 

Cimarron Mountain Club is a new twist on the private ski area model first created by Montana’s Yellowstone Club, where 800 high-profile members and their families ski a 2,200-acre private ski hill adjacent to Big Sky. Aronstein bet powder preservation would lure a different type of wealthy buyer. (There’s also a robust collection of groomed beginner and intermediate ski runs at Cimarron Mountain Club as well as cross-country tracks for families with skiers of all abilities.)

“I think Cimarron Mountain Club hits a very small niche, but they have done it in a first-class way,” said Andy Daly, the former captain of Vail ski area who now co-owns the Powderhorn ski area on the Grand Mesa. “They have done it with great sensitivity to the environment and creating a feeling here that gets people excited about skiing the way that it used to be.”

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via Straight News https://coloradosun.com/2020/11/16/cimarron-mountain-club-private-snowcat-skiing-sells-out/

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